Harnessing the power of curiosity to position your next big idea
A team of students at Stanford’s d.School was charged with making a more economical hospital incubator for developing countries. On a research trip to rural Nepal, they realized that the existing incubators were too expensive and often too far from the locals who needed them. The original questions was: “How do we improve access?” The better question was: “How can we keep babies warm?” The result was the creation of a special sleeping bag warmed only by hot water and costs a fraction of any incubator. The students started a company and named the product Embrace, and it has now saved thousands of premature newborns.
I like to think of this object lesson whenever I’m confronted with a perplexing challenge. No doubt, questions by the dozens fill your day: How do you carve out market share? Which agency will help my brand achieve its greatest success? You want to think clearly and critically in a sea of content, so the questions you ask make all the difference.
Not all questions are alike
First, let’s unpack the power of curiosity. Curiosity loves two types of questions: Focused, and Open-ended. Focused questions yield single-minded answers: Do HCPs find that my brand is relevant, yes or no? However, open-ended questions create new mental pathways, unlock unexpected insights, and foster ideas with a wow-factor: How does my brand remind you of why you went into medicine?
Great artists and great decision makers are great questioners. Behind every masterpiece and breakthrough idea lies a well-framed question. Michelangelo didn’t ask, “Which block of marble is best to work with?” Rather, he asked, “Which block of marble holds inside the shape I’m looking for?” All it takes to develop the next new idea is a different perspective—and a better question.
Now, think about three campaigns that you’ve seen this week. Don’t take them at face value. Try on a curious mindset. Question the creators in ways you hope they question themselves. “Who are they really talking to?” “What beliefs are they trying to change?” And never, “Why did you use red?” But rather, “What’s the thinking behind your use of red?” Always assume that there’s a purpose at work in the subject of your inquisition.
And for a whole new angle, try asking questions from an inverse perspective: What would audiences miss most if my brand didn’t exist? This provokes an immediate prioritization of benefits, while also assessing the passion customers have about your assets.
The single most common question when reviewing ideas is actually the least helpful: “Do I like it?” The better question is: “Will it help my customers like my brand?
Taking the subjectivity out of inquiry
Questions do more than foster new ideas; they focus your mind and help you make decisions. They can create frameworks that turn mysteries into certainties.
At our agency, we screen every creative concept against a rubric called S.C.O.R.E.
Running every idea through this framework helps take the subjectivity out of inquiries that stop at, “Do I like it?” You can try similar critical questions as you choose an agency to market your next product. Pay attention to what you see and hear in agency proposals. “Does it build my brand and not just sell my product?” “Does it satisfy the S.C.O.R.E. criteria, or is it just flashy?”
Ask each agency why they think their creative will resonate in the marketplace. What’s their basis for creative decisions? Do they rely on experience and intuition? What are they doing to ensure that their ideas will change beliefs, which in turn, change behaviors?
The more you continue to ask better questions, the more equipped you will be to assess whatever challenges come across your desk.